An excellent 5.5 mile walk in and around Stanhope visiting the Shittlehope Burn, Linkirk Cave, Crawley Side, Stanhope Burn and finishing with a stretch along the River Wear.
|Parking:||Durham Dales Centre, Stanhope|
|Route:||Download Route [GPX]|
This was the last day of an increasingly enjoyable week spent in Stanhope, Weardale. I had a few options in mind for a final walk but in the end plumped for this route. Basically it was an attempt to stitch together some interesting places I'd come across during the week whilst also visiting a few local features that I hadn't yet visited. The forecast was also fairly bad with warnings for wind speeds of up to 60 miles an hour and frequent heavy rains showers.
The walk started from the front door of our cottage on Chapel Street, just behind the Durham Dales Centre. For the purposes of this walk description though I'll start from the parking area of the centre itself. Turning left out of the car park I walked down the main street. Saving some of the features around the market square until the end of the walk I continued past the pub and shops to walk to the eastern end of the village. Turning left on the last street of houses I then took a footpath sign to reach a gate on to a field.
"There were numerous little openings in the limestone walls of the gorge. One walking guide calls these ‘Cat Holes’ whilst some OS mapping shows them as ‘Fairy Holes’."
Crossing the field I then came to a small footbridge over Shittlehope Burn. Immediately on the other side I turned left between two old stone gateposts to take a path heading upstream. The next third of a mile following the path through the woods next to and then above the stream was quite delightful. Coming to a footbridge I crossed over but before taking the path slanting upwards I dropped down to the stream to investigate the limestone gorge and the caves marked on the map.
A bit of careful scrambling over some fallen trees brought me into the gorge virtually on the streambed. There were numerous little openings in the limestone walls of the gorge. One walking guide calls these 'Cat Holes' whilst some OS mapping shows them as 'Fairy Holes'. There is also a larger cave called Linkirk. In retrospect and having checked out Northen Pies' blog Exploring the Shittlehope I definitely didn't make it as far as Linkirk but it was still none the less interesting to potter around. That said it would be better to attempt this detour in drier conditions.
After exploring a bit of the gorge I returned to the footbridge and took the path slanting up to the left. Crossing through two stiles I then emerged on to a field full of sheep. It was also absolutely full of sheep poo. I could barely take a step without standing in any! Thankfully it was only a short distance across to more congenial ground underfoot. Even at this modest height I had good views of the valley.
After crossing a few fields I emerged on to a minor road. Turning right I then took a footpath climbing up between houses. This led on to more open ground and a grassy track. Turning left on this I followed it up on to Crawley Edge. Thus far it hadn't seemed that windy but in the now much more exposed location I took a bit of a buffeting over the next section.
I'd first visited Crawley Edge earlier on in the week during a walk up on to Collier Law and Fatherley Hill. It had been a highlight of that walk and so I was keen to make sure it was included in this route. It being August the contrast between the purple heather along the rim of the edge, the bright greens of Ashes Quarry and the valley beyond was quite special. The blustery conditions with odd patches of sunshine moving quickly across the valley also did a lot to enhance the views.
Partly due to the wind, half way across I descended to the lower path that runs along the top of Ashes Quarry. This brought me to the back of some houses at Crawleyside. Turning left I walked down the road a short way before taking a driveway to the right. Passing the remains of some old kilns and and a few houses the track led into the woods of Stanhope Burn. After a third of a mile I took a path slanting down from the main track to reach a footbridge over Stanhope Burn.
Here I made another little detour to try and find the waterfall shown on the map. Apparently also called Widley Fall I followed a faint path below the crags to the spot where the falls should be. There was definitely no waterfall. There was however some nice views back up to the footbridge. Returning to the bridge I took a path slanting up to the left. I soon came across another little bridge and looking down I could see the stream that should be linked to the waterfall. Looking down I could see that the stream wasn't generating enough flow to force the water over the lip of rock. Presumably therefore Widley Fall can only be seen after prolonged heavy rain.
Continuing on the path initially stayed high above the burn before descending to another footbridge. Without crossing I bore right to reach the end of a driveway passing an old mill and then the forbidding Stanhope Old Hall. Now that is an old house I'd definitely like to have a tour of. From the driveway I was soon back on the main road. For a quicker finish simply turn left back into the village. However, I wanted to take a look at Stanhope Bridge so I turned right and then a left at the community hospital. Following the road round there was no footpath but the verge was wide enough to avoid any traffic.
At the bridge there was a good view of the flooded Greenfoot Quarry. Crossing over Stanhope Bridge I then followed the road to the left. After a quarter of a mile I saw the point where Stanhope Burn flows into the River Wear. A bit further on I came to a ford and some stepping stones. Just a few days before I'd been able to cross the stepping stones without any problems. The day's rain however had half-submerged most of the stones. Instead I continued on the south bank to reach a footbridge. Crossing over I turned right to follow a riverside path on to a street called The Butts. Turning left on this I was then back at the market square.
There are a number of interesting features around the square. One is Stanhope Castle which can only be viewed from the outside as it is a private residence. Across the road there is the old market cross and St Thomas' Church. The church has a lovely flower border on the path. A quick exploration also revealed an OS cut benchmark on one corner of the church. On the outer wall of the church there is also the local war memorial and the remains of a fossilised tree. As explained by the nearby plaque the fossil is of a tree that existed 320 million years ago. The fossil was found in a quarry up on the moors near Edmundbyers in 1915. It was brought to Stanhope in pieces and reassembled in the 1960's.
From the church I headed west back to the Durham Dales Centre. To finish the walk I passed around the back of the shops to take a quick look at the small gardens including the 'Bug Corner'. This was a walk full of interest with some great contrasts between the beck scenery of Shittlehope Burn and Stanhope Burn with the big views of Crawley Edge. Added to this the additional interest of Stanhope's church and market square then this is a walk I'd highly recommend. There is one proviso though - do take care if deciding to take a closer look at the Fairy Holes in Shittlehope Burn.